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Zhao Jinhai

One problem down. Both, if you included efforts that weren't his own. That just left the samurai and the onna-bushi left. Too bad his fingers were still twitching. He wouldn't be able to hold a sword to full effectiveness like this. So with some reluctance, Jinhai sheathed his pilfered blade in the scabbard he'd brought his agency-issue katana with. It wasn't technically losing a katana if he brought a replacement back, right?

Agent Zhao cracked his knuckles as he stalked forward, set to get back to work with his bare hands. He surged forward, weaving around and under the splitting lightning arrows as he tried to close the distance. Getting into melee range with the warrior woman would ensure that he didn't take any more fire outside of stray shots, as Jinhai doubted the samurai would risk shooting his only lifeline at this point.

A dive tucked into a roll, and he sprang up to lunge at the onna-bushi, aiming to get in close past the range of her weapon to land some devastating baji strikes against her.
Renar Hagen

Frankly, he hadn't expected the Iron Roses to be individually so much stronger than each member of Prince Erion's retinue as they were. It seemed their training had borne fruit after all. But that mattered less in the face of the opposing knights' impeccable squad tactics and coordination. Renar grit his teeth in irritation as his killing blow was blocked by the compatriot of his target, a shield interspersing itself between poleaxe and head seemingly from out of nowhere.

This was fine. He could adjust. His ears caught the various shouts across the battlefield, and Renar stepped back from an arcing slash just in time to briefly keep an eye on the bigger picture. The Talderians were blocking in formation in order to render Gertrude's fireballs useless in direct assault. As a distraction, though...

"To the flanks! Clear the firing line!" Renar shouted to his fellows, backing up to give Gertrude a clear shot between herself and the knights that he, Fionn, Gerard, and Fleuri were facing. "Follow my lead!" He'd be an idiot to just shout his plan in the midst of battle. The other three were all competent enough to get the gist as soon as he would move, anyway.

The moment after Gertrude's fireball would impact against the Talderians' shields, Renar would step in, crouching down to deliver a sweeping strike to the feet of as many knights in the shield wall as his poleaxe could reach. Easy meat for the others to deal with should they trip and fall.

The downside to such a team-focused approach was that it was rendered far less effective with each casualty. In theory, they just had to keep bleeding the proverbial beast until it lost its strength.

@The Otter @HereComesTheSnow @Crimson Paladin
Ranbu no Izayoi

"Urk." Izayoi exhaled reflexively as Ciradyl seemed intent on crushing her midsection. One hand raised up to awkwardly pat the Faye on the back before she saw fit to release her. When Izayoi was finally free to breathe again, she waited for introductions to conclude before nodding to Ciradyl.

"I owe you the courtesy of an explanation, at least." She very much didn't care to repeat her story once again in as so many days, but it would at least serve to explain to the latecomers in the group as well. "This may distress you, but I had every intention of not living through my final stand. No one was as surprised as I to discover my own survival after the fact. There was a village at the base of that mountain. The local doctor discovered me clinging to life and ensured that I did not fail in that venture."

A fortifying sip of bergamot. Gods, how she'd missed this.

"One thing led to another. Isshin and I started a family together. One girl. Suzume. She would have seen her fourth nameday within the next two moons." She let a shuddering breath loose at her next words, her eyes haunted. "Six months ago, Valheimr raided the village. Razed it and slew every inhabitant. I had been up on the mountain collecting herbs for Isshin. By the account of one Captain Reisa, they were evidently searching for me. I as good as killed them all, Ciradyl. Twice over. First by my weakness. I had abandoned the sword that whole time. The second by my absence."

Anything further Izayoi would have said was cut off as her ears twitched, footsteps coming from outside of the room. A second later, a lanky Mystel male clad in servant's garb entered, kneeling briefly before rising to set a tray of sweets and pastries down on the table. That task complete, he moved forward to bow his head before Ciradyl.

"Mistress. I bring tidings as well. The local garrison is mobilizing, and several units have already been spotted moving northward. We may have our opening to infiltrate past their defenses. Perhaps we could finally discover exactly what is going on with the Blight. Moreover..." He paused, hesitating. "Lord Hien's execution date has been announced. Tomorrow morning. The occupiers plan to hang him publically before the palace. The public is invited to watch." The last few words were punctuated with a disgusted sneer, but Izayoi shot to her feet, her eyes wide in alarm.

"Hien?! Hien of the Rijin clan?" She asked Renzo desperately, who only nodded. Izayoi turned to look between Ciradyl and Galahad. "Our mission rates greater import, but..." She sucked in a breath. This was selfish of her, but there was no choice. "I swore an oath. His father was my liege lord, before the Emperor saw fit to raise me in his esteem after the former fell in battle. I failed my lord Kaien once already. I cannot let his son die as well."

Izayoi stared at the dragoon, her expression nearly desperate. She sucked in a breath, and against all her instinct, bowed her head.

"I will go on my lonesome if I must. I am not asking you to jeopardize our mission with this distraction. Solely to grant me leave to fulfill my duty. You are in command. The order is yours."
Iraleth Kyrios

Forest. Help.

The message came loud and clear through Iraleth's Adapa, and she finished glowering at Valen and his cronies long enough to pay attention to it. She frowned. Hurried and terse. Hildegunde might actually be in legitimate danger. If that were the case...

The mental math as to whether or not to intervene didn't take as long as someone else might have expected it to. Yes, she would be abandoning the ceremony. Yes, making her way at all due speed would leave her at a disadvantage for the duel tonight. But none of that mattered compared to saving a life. She'd make for a poor paladin if this was the sort of equation that gave her pause.

Iraleth turned her back on Valen and company, closing her eyes.

"On borrowed wings."

The Inheritor's armor manifested, no doubt to the surprise of those around her. Iraleth didn't care. Her helm fixed its gaze upon Ciara.

"You heard the message. I'm going after her. You have five seconds to hitch a ride, and then I leave, with or without you." No matter Ciara's decision, in exactly five seconds, Iraleth would take off, soaring into the sky on wings of light and making her way towards the forest.


In SPIRITUM 7 days ago Forum: Casual Roleplay
Kalina Kovalic

"Ow." Kalina grunted tonelessly as she found herself picked up and flung by the leg, crashing into the ground some ways away. The situation was still strange, all around. All available intel suggested that Vangar didn't employ autonomous units. What changed? Surely they weren't stupid enough to employ prototypes to defend one of their royals. Which would suggest they were used by the other faction that had apparently conducted a mutiny? Questions for later.

She made use of Gerard's telekinesis, hopping from foothold to foothold while midair. Kalina had nearly closed the gap back between herself and the robot when she noticed Valerie taking aim below. She recognized what the other girl was up to, of course. After years training together, how couldn't she?

"Valerie, Kalina. Moving to follow up."

The instant Valerie fired, Kalina surged forward in a burst of speed-enhancing magic, closing in on the robot in one last leap and latching on to it with her free hand. She slashed twice at the head unit, two gunshots booming, before making a thrust towards the vulnerable electronics and pulling the trigger, aiming to detonate an explosion inside of the bot's armor.
Earlier that day...

”I will return in an hour or so before we make our way to Kugane. There is a swordsmith I intend to pay my respects to.”

The morning that they had set out to Kugane, that was all Izayoi had told the remainder the party before leaving the inn, her traveling cloak and straw hat donned. And that was all she’d intended to do. So why then, had one among their number followed her?

”Is there an issue?” Izayoi raised one eyebrow coolly in Rudolf’s direction, having noticed him trailing behind her as they walked. ”You’ve yet to explain why you wish to see a northern swordsmith so badly, despite the fact that you use none of our blades.”

He hid his grimace, only refuge being dignity after she’d noted the tail this quickly. Regrettable time to try and mimic the way their SEED operative moved through the streets, as opposed to his more familiar brush or grass.

His pulse ratcheted up a single notch— and not more. Incredibly, it felt like the week’s travel had seen him begin to get used to her and her measuring gaze. Last month, saying that about Ranbu no Izayoi was unimaginable.

Just begin, though— his heart had made a point not to quicken, but it still felt like the hammer of a heavy church bell in his chest. He cleared his throat.

“None from me,” he replied after that moment, slowly accelerating his pace to draw just behind as they continued. Serve a half truth here? It could get her off his back. He was all about that idea. “I’m meaning to familiarize myself with the area. If we split, for whatever reason, it’ll serve us if more people can navigate, understand the surroundings, so on.”

The mention of their differing armaments drew his eyes to the long and short blades at the samurai’s hip, heavy with the stench of iron and smoke. Thirsty things, all the moreso here and now. They lingered there a moment. Daisho Pair, if his memory served him…

He made a decision, and met her eyes again.

“…As well, I come from a village of swordsmen myself. If there’s a swordsmith someone like you would go out of their way for, then I have certain matters I’d like to petition his insight on, if I can. Some riddles in the steel I carry that’ve stumped Edren pretty thoroughly. The different perspective could be a windfall.”

It’d probably be churlish to mention the idea that arriving in tandem with her was probably set to give him much better odds at being heard out at all, with the previous near-kerfuffle regarding Robin and the Shinobi Escort still fresh in his mind.

“If it’d be an intrusion, I can wait around outside until your respects are paid in full.”

”Do what you will. I’ll not take long.” Izayoi replied after a moment. She was hardly going to protest a member of the party seeking to make himself more effective. ”And word it the same way. Kurogane enjoys having his ego stroked.”

Eventually, several minutes’ walking east of the village led them to a small smithy and attached home, its fires unlit. Izayoi frowned at the lack of smoke before marching up to knock on the house’s door. No response. She scowled. She knocked again, this time more insistently.

“Gods damn you, what do you jackals want now-” A squat, wizened old man easily no younger than seventy slammed the door open with a snarl, only to pause and blink as he beheld Izayoi. After a moment, he snorted.

“You a ghost here to lead me to the next life, girl? Was hoping for m’wife, really.”

”Hello, Kurogane.” Izayoi nodded curtly. He really hadn’t changed, after all. Her sheathed sword came out of its belt, Izayoi cracking the steel out just an inch for him to examine one of his own masterworks.

“Kept it in decent condition, at least. So what’s a dead woman want with this old bastard?”

”Merely to pay my respects while I still can. I owe you that much, at least.”

“So you do,” Kurogane grunted. “Would’ve been better if you’d actually won the war with it, but I wasn’t asking for miracles.” His gaze shifted over her shoulder. “Who’s the foreigner?”

He stiffened for a moment, then stepped forward. The frosty reception was only to be expected, a fresh-faced warrior from a faraway land— but the blunt manner of a master craftsman was the same everywhere, no matter calling, creed, or culture. The familiarity was a comfort for his skittish soul.

“My name is Rudolf, I’m a swordsman hailing from Sagramore village.” he inclined his head with respect, but didn’t linger. These types may have sometimes liked praise, but to a man they hated an effusive beggar. Best to be straightforward with your business.

“I’m one of Miss Izayoi’s traveling companions on her current mission— When she told us she was making time for meeting you, I believed it’d be in my best interests to tag along. I’d be remiss to pass up a chance to speak with a swordsmith someone of her caliber holds in that high a regard.”

His introductions given, he stepped off to the side, gesturing to the Mystrel that the man wished had won glory over his home. Strange, strange feeling, knowing but now seeing it in front of you, hearing it outright… But that, very pointedly, was not Rudolf Sagramore’s war. He’d enjoyed nothing of the bounties of that victory. If anything, the opposite.

“I’ll ask my questions once you guys are finished.”

No, runt. a cold voice retorted inside his head. You had plenty of country to run amok in. You think Daddy kicking you out changes that? You want to tell her, him, or the hare that little opinion? I’m sure they’d loooooooove a self-centered Edrenian—

Quiet. Don’t you dare.

—to rip apart.

“Edreni?” Kurogane raised an eyebrow, looking at Izayoi before shrugging. “Well, you can’t be all bad if she’s not split you head to toe yet. I’ll see to you in a moment, then. Girl, you here for the same as usual?”

Izayoi only nodded at this, following the smith inside and beckoning for Rudolf to join them as well.

“Mn. Too bad. The Black Helms took it.” Kurogane gestured to the top of his mantle, where a mounting for a sword was present…but with no sword.

”Valheimr soldiers?” Izayoi said after a moment of shocked silence. ”When?”

“Near a year ago. They came to collect taxes. Their commander knew their steel well enough to see an artifact above all others being held on my fucking mantle. So the bastards took it.” He reached for a pipe, starting to pack it. “Could’ve avoided all this if y’just used the damn blade like we’d intended, you know.”

”I already have a sword.” Izayoi’s reply was nearly automatic, as if they’d had this exact same line of argument in the past. ”You were free to hand it off to anyone else you deemed worthy.”

“I forged that sword for the Emperor’s court, you stupid girl.” Kurogane snapped, lighting his pipe in his hearth’s fire. “And let the finest swordsman I ever did see take it instead. Between him and you, no one else is fit to wield the bloody thing. Let me guess, you’ve been killing Valheimr?” At Izayoi’s nod, he continued. “You ever find it, actually use it this time. As fine as that blade I forged for your coming-of-age is, my one and only masterwork is superior. Might’ve actually won the war with it.”

His piece said to Izayoi, who stood scowling at him, Kurogane turned back to Rudolf.

“Right. You. Looking for a consult? I’ll tell you right now: I’m not forging a sword in any of the southern styles.” Kurogane looked the monster hunter’s sheathed blades over. “I’ve my own specialties, and I ain’t young enough to go relearning everything to forge your ugly, double-edged pieces of shit. So whatever you want, I’d hope it isn’t that.”

Guh. Now everyone’s getting bent outta shape. You know she really would, right old man Kurogane? If I told her any more than I’m gonna have to tell you? She still might a minute from now!

Rudolf had politely kept silent during the exchange, knowing well enough that there was far too much history there to step into as an outsider— and doubly cautious of the bristling tempers that were rising throughout, the moment Izayoi had protectively snapped her jaws in defense of the sword she continued to carry, even in the face of a masterwork now pilfered by the invaders. An injustice to be sure, but more immediately…

”You’re lucky, then. The steel from my village is honest and trustworthy.”

His reply came with no small amount of frigid humor, as the paired cruciform blades on his hip remained well inside the leather, and his wiry arm instead crested his shoulder. Adopted as the culture may have been, Rudolf found himself forcing down a certain degree of venom for the disrespect— Sagramori held their chosen blades in the regard most reserved only for old friends. He was more than a little sympathetic to his samurai counterpart in that regard.

“My problem child, though, knows no home and tells only lies. He was thrown into my lap some time ago as a gift from afar.”

The bitter words on his tongue would have to do as an outlet. Pointless lie. He was bringing out the only ugly bastard of the bunch.

It took no small amount of work to properly draw and present a greatsword within the confines of the smithy without knocking anything—or indeed anyone to the wayside, but experienced eyes like those in present company possessed would doubtless catch the truth. However much the dimensions were a hassle, they were the only one. Even gripping with one hand, the haft transferred intent through the length of the blade very, very well.

He held it in both arms before Kurogane when all was said and done, flat and hilt resting in a palm each as he peered down the length with a furrowed brow.

”It cuts nothing, no matter the skill or strength behind the swing. Not even fishing twine. It won’t even do the courtesy of acting as a dull bar to smash straight through something. For the life of me, I can’t determine why— But it must go deeper than construction. I wanted to know what you make of such dead steel.”

Kurogane took the blade out of Rudolf’s hands, holding it up to the light as he inspected it, testing its weight and heft. After a few moments of this, he wordlessly marched towards his smithy, retrieving a bag of tools as he did so.

Several minutes passed, in which he murmured feverishly to himself as he examined away, prodding it with this and that tool, sparks coming off every now and then. In the meantime, Izayoi dug into the smith’s pantry and started a pot of tea.

Eventually, Kurogane finally looked up, looking straight at Rudolf.

“Boy. Where’d you get your hands on this?”

Miraculously, he found himself thanking his lucky stars.

Five years of headache and dozens of stumped Edreni bladesmiths past by like grass on wind, until he was led here by the most unlikely company, to the most unlikely benefactor. Finally, a hit a half-decade in the making on this vexing hunk of scrap.

No, don’t get ahead of yourself. He needs more information, he hasn’t made an indication one way or another yet.

And what was more, the information he was requesting, the raw truth of the matter… was sensitive. The sounds of Izayoi rummaging through the pantry drew his gaze for a moment, before he met Kurogane’s again.

She was preoccupied, but did he trust her to not have ears half as sharp as her blades? To loosen her focus on a matter that concerned her new party member, and had the smith this alert?

“Secondhand. My father and I parted in anger, and he saw fit to part with this alongside me.” he began, leaning in with a lowered tone. He had Robin’s encounter with the shinobi and to a lesser extent Izayoi herself too fresh in his mind to be fully forthcoming, not when Kurogane himself had so much of the war in his mind. He’d tell as much of the truth as he could… reasonably get away with.

Quite the politician. It’s like you never left his side.

“As for him, he said it was a battle trophy. A powerful warrior in real garish clothes appeared in the middle of his camp one night from seemingly nowhere, and it took half their number to subdue him. That this was the worth of four dozen soldiers. I never heard if they learned where the man came from, only that he disappeared as quickly as he popped up.”

“That so?” Kurogane raised an eyebrow. “This during the war? Only samurai I’d know worth four dozen men is busy stealing my tea.” His voice raised during the last bit, to which Izayoi blew him off with a glower, though not without starting to listen in.

“Either way, probably not an Osprean, given he dropped this sword. Frankly? In terms of forging? Composition? This slab of iron you’re lugging’s damn well on par with my best. If not, and I’m hesitant to admit this, possibly better. That said, figured out why it’s so damn useless in your hands: the blade’s sealed. Someone enchanted it to have absolutely no potency or heft in the hands of any wielder. I know some green magics to enhance the blades I forge, but not enough to reverse the seal on your sword.”

Kurogane sighed, handing the greatsword back to Rudolf.

“Damn shame. Thing’d probably be a right terror without that seal. Now, care to have some of my fucking tea,” Another scowl at Izayoi. “Before you head off?”

Sealed by arcane means… They had closed one mystery and opened a plethora in its wake. And these questions were even more obscure than the first set— in spite of the supernatural, thoroughly regrettable nature of his empowerment (hey, don’t be like that), matters of magic as a craft were far beyond his ken. At least with metallurgical concerns, a swordsman’s need for understanding and maintaining his weaponry could give him a certain headway… But they had lead to a dead end.

His eyebrows shot up as he half-way received the sudden venom sent Izayoi’s way, stepping back with a start from the crossfire.

A moment later, though, he bowed his head deeper than before. It was a stiff gesture, not wholly familiar, but earnestly made.

“...Thank you, sir. This has been really enlightening. I owe you.”

This visit was a greater windfall than he could have ever really bargained for. It had smashed through that wall he’d been beating his head upon and lead him in a direction entirely anew— now it was time to explore, study, and learn what he could. Reverse a seal on a blade. Unlock the true, potentially devastating power within, something to match its poise, craftsmanship, and sturdiness. A path of action.

The sword wasn’t going to give it up easy, that much he knew… but now he had proper questions to ask.

“I’ll make sure it doesn’t go to waste.”

Izayoi had already steeped the tea, after all— but the note of excitement in his voice was worth more than just a beverage.

Kurogane dismissed Rudolf with a grunt, walking over to the low table at which Izayoi sat and pouring himself a cup of tea. Several moments passed, in which all three inhabitants of the room drank in silence. Once Izayoi and Rudolf finished, the former stood, bowing to Kurogane.

”Thank you, Kurogane. For everything.” Her words were returned with a glower.

“Don’t say it like that. Makes it sound like you’re planning on getting offed. Again. You were mourned last time, idiot girl. Try not to do that to everyone who ever knew you this time. Unlike your master, some people actually liked you.”

In lieu of words, Izayoi only bowed deeper before rising and turning to leave.

Rudolf rose in her wake, and mirrored the bow, albeit with the stiffness of fresh learning.

“My thanks as well. Take care, Mister Kurogane.”

Following Izayoi out with a turn on the heel, he found the brusque smith’s last rejoinder to echo in his mind as he contemplated what he’d seen and heard.

The Limbtaker was still very much alive within her. That much was impossible to ignore— the bile she had for the invading Valheimr had proven the visage had far from waned.

But war’s harshest realities were in the way you boiled the people on the other side down to a demon to fear, hate, and slaughter. He knew, always academically, that this was the case— it was why he had accepted the shinobi’s anger at his accent, after all.

He gingerly pulled the door shut behind, before jogging down the street to burn the rest of the distance between them.

Even this terrifying figure, molded by battlefield myth into a gruesome beast of carnage, bloodshed, and bottomless hatred… Was just an idiot girl, liked by those around her, mourned when believed dead. Same as anyone else.

He couldn’t swallow the years of knowing her as the former right away. The mind was flexible, but nowhere near pliable enough for it, esp in ecially in bearing witness to the unfettered wrath she carried. No way he’d drop his guard and pretend they were friends.

But, in accepting that,

Wouldn’t hurt to try and get to know the latter a little more. We’re walking the same way, after all, and we’re in for the long haul. It’s not like I don’t trust what he says.

“And thank you, for letting me tag along. I owe you a real favor, Izayoi.”

Renar Hagen

The vaunted retinue of the last prince of Talderia. Now this was a challenge worth their time. Renar grinned savagely beneath his helm as both parties took the field, his poleaxe hefted up in his hands. They had their orders from the Captain, and they were sensible: attack from as many angles as possible to maximize the chances of breaching the defensive cordon and reaching the prince. It was a sound strategy for the parameters they were working around.

A quick glance around as they mustered. Renar found himself stationed near Gerard, Fionn, and Fleuri in particular. No time for concerns such as camraderie or attitude. There was a goal to be met.

"The lot of you, form up with me." Renar commanded, already running through tactics in his head. "Sir Fleuri, we'll form the van and break what lines they have to meet us. Sirs Fionn and Gerard will provide support behind us and capitalize on the threat we pose. Ready? Break!"

Renar surged forward, trusting that Fleuri was at least competent enough to follow up and charge alongside him. He already knew the other two were. His speed had improved drastically after training with Edwin and Parvan, and he took full advantage of it as he whirled his poleaxe around, smashing the hammer head towards the first helmeted knight he faced.

@The Otter @HereComesTheSnow @Crimson Paladin
Salvator Rasch

What they were doing was working: the mech was taking severe amounts of damage. Good. Even better was that the comms jamming suddenly stopped. Finally. Time to call in extraction, then. No sense in waiting for this thing to be dead. Salvator ducked back further behind cover, dialing his comms to the frequency they'd been given for pickup.

"Reporting, all objectives complete. Requesting evac. Be aware, LZ is hot. I repeat, LZ is hot!" He said over comms, making sure to dial the channel into his helmet cam and get a good shot of the half-slagged mech still stomping away to let their handlers know what the squad was up against. "Need enough firepower to mission kill this mech before we can take off, over."

With his extraction request completed, Salvator switched channels to squad comms again, making sure to update everyone else.

"Extraction's been called, we need to hold out until our pickup gets here!" He leaned out just enough from behind cover to fire a burst off at what remained of the mech's head before repositioning, going from cover to cover. "Keep mobile and focus on not getting killed! We're running the clock out now!"

Ranbu no Izayoi

Dawn came, and they left the inn and the village without further incident. Small mercies, at least. As the morning march went on, the party would see the walls and pagodas of Kugane in the distance grow ever larger, though not without...additions. A pair of black steel Valheimr airships patrolled the airspace around the city at all times, and single airships seemed to transit in and out of the city multiple times per hour. As they drew ever closer, several towers of the same black steel could be seen dotting the city, breaking up the Kugane skyline.

Some hours later, the party reached the city's grand gates. A platoon of Valheimr soldiers in full armor occupied the entrance, guarding the gates while looking over papers carried by a line of people awaiting entry.

"Och, going to take more than a minute, kupo." Goug groused from his position driving the wagon, uncapping a flask as he raised it to his lips. "What's someone supposed to do if they need a kupoin' piss break?"

As they awaited entry, Izayoi looked to Robin specifically, having plenty of time as the line shuffled along.

"For your own sake, do try not to wear that abhorrent outfit within a nation your people called enemy not half a decade ago. Or at least go without the coat." Her piece said, she resumed her wait, though not without sideeyeing Chisaki once or twice. Katama. Right. Rather convenient to represent a shinobi bloodline when they were supposed to have been wiped out.

By midday, they'd finally reached the head of the line. The sergeant in charge took one look at the group, shook his head, and gave a tired sigh.

"Papers, occupation, and intent." He grumbled, most of the other soldiers at the gate looking just as bored as he sounded. Izayoi kept her arms within her cloak, one hand falling to the hit of her sword. If the viera was false, this would be the moment to strike. Though judging by how the platoon acted, they were either marvelous actors or as bored as any other garrison soldier.

"Traveling performers hired by my mistress for a show. And their guards from Blightbeasts of course." Chisaki interjected smoothly, handing a sheaf of papers over. The sergeant flicked through them briefly with a disinterested eye before handing them back with a nod.

"Mummers and ronin. Fine. Let them pass!" The gate opened, and the garrison on duty stood aside. "Cause no trouble, lest we treat you like a subversive. Or do. Interior garrison gets to have all the excitement..."

Izayoi waited until they were out of earshot of the guards before looking to the ninja.

"Perhaps you may not be false after all. In this regard, at least. Onward to Ciradyl, as you claim."

They entered Kugane proper, and Izayoi was hit with a wave of nostalgia. Even with the addition of Valheim in the mix, six years without beholding the capital brought back memories. Chisaki led them through the streets, winding up in what Izayoi remembered to be the merchant's quarter. A small, nondescript house awaited, with stables to the side. Goug parked the wagon and started attending to the chocobos while everyone else was led in.

The building was modestly furnished, with sparse decorations. But homely enough. Upon being bid to remove their traveling shoes and following Chisaki deeper inside, winding up in a sitting room with cushions, a low table with tea on it, and...

"Ciradyl." Izayoi exhaled, removing her hat. "You look...well." She'd say age had been kind to the Faye, but last she remembered, Ciradyl was only...twenty-seven? Twenty-eight? Of course the years hadn't quite ravaged her yet. She unclipped her cloak, sitting down at the table. "Ought I apologize for never having called on you while faking my death?"
Zhao Jinhai

The good news was that he had a functional sword again. The bad news was that his gambit didn't exactly pan out. Oh, well. You won some, you lost some. Jinhai just shrugged to himself before flipping the katana around, grasping it by the hilt with one hand. He turned to the samurai with a grin, only to blink at what he saw next.

Some sort of...lightning arrow. Well, shit. And in his peripheral vision, an animated komainu rushing for his back. Double shit. Without time to think about his next move, Jinhai leapt up into the air, instinctively going for the first idea that came to mind. He'd seen this move he was about to outright steal...somewhere. He just couldn't remember where.

Jinhai raised his pilfered sword, crashing it against the arrow of magical lightning. It sparked and ran across the blade, shocking his hands somewhat before he hurriedly swung, redirecting the lightning down towards the komainu whose charge he'd just leapt over. He landed on it feet first, qi-empowered limbs aiming to smash into it and do whatever damage he could.
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